Ashtabula Co., Ohio
SOURCE: History of Ashtabula County, Ohio
Large, Moina W.
Topeka :: Historical Pub. Co.,, 1924, 1132 pgs.
CHEESE INDUSTRY - GREAT INDUSTRY IN GLASS
HOUSES - HORSES AND HORSEMEN - ASHTABULA COUNTY TELEGRAPH COMPANY - RECLAMATION
OF MARSH - NATURAL GAS - ANTI SLAVERY ACTIVITIES - FAIRS - ASHTABULA COUNTY
SOCIETY - INDUSTRIAL SURVEY - STATISTICS
Cheese Industry. - From a
perusal of the sketches of the different towns of Ashtabula County, it is easy
to conclude that one of the principal industries of the early years, and up to a
few years ago, was cheese making. This was a great dairy county in the
middle and latter years of the last century. Nearly every settlement had
its cheese factory, and the product was turned out by the ton and this county
was famed afar for the quantity of quality of its cheese. As in the
present day the leading hotels of New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, Buffalo
and many other cities serve Ashtabula grown cucumbers, lettuce, mushrooms,
tomatoes and other delicacies at any season of the year, so in the earlier years
one might be almost as certain of having Ashtabula County cheese served with his
pie at such places. The making of cheese became a science, and makers of this
county were considered authority on methods and curing. The layman can not
appreciate the different varieties that could be turned out. At one time West
Andover boasted ownership of the largest cheese factory in the world with the
largest annual production, and it was quite fitting, therefore, that this place
should turn out the largest cheese ever made—of which the following account is
given by Charles S. Denslow, of Saybrook, retired New York Central
engineer, who had a hand in the making:
"A derisive epithet of modern slang language is
'You Big Cheese', which really is senseless in its application, but time was
when that very phrase meant something. To me it recalls the Philadelphia
Centennial demonstration in celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the
independence of this great country of ours. That was in 1876, and was, up to
that time, the greatest exhibition ever held. One of the sights at which
millions of visitors marveled at this great exhibit was the 'Big Cheese from
Ashtabula County, Ohio', and (also in modern parlance) it was 'Some Cheese'.
After so many years it is not easy to remember all the details of the making,
and I am not certain as to what factory turned it out. Some say it was made at
West Williamsfield; others at West Andover. J. J. Lobdell of Ashtabula
says he recalls distinctly that he was a lad playing around the factory at West
Andover and that it was manufactured there, as he can remember the interest he
felt in the work. I presume he is right, but is really immaterial what
individual factory it was, just that it was made in Ashtabula County, the
commonwealth that has always been noted for doing big things. I have never heard
the claim that it was the largest piece of food of the kind ever made disputed.
The exact weight was 2,300 pounds. No one factory could have produced such a
product alone, and five factories participated in the work. These were at West
Andover, Cherry Valley, Wayne, Pierpont and Mineral Springs (Greene). Dorset was
to have been included in the honor, but when their curd was prepared it was
found to be not of the necessary consistency. The contract with these factories
was to furnish 'firm-cheese' curd, each to contribute one day's output. The late
J. J. Phillips of Orwell was the instigator of the project, and everybody
saw at once the advantage as an advertisement for this county. It was figured
that the cheese could be sold for an amount sufficient to cover the expense of
making the exhibit. P. J. Norton, of Ashtabula, and I were at that time
employed in the Mineral Springs factory and helped to make the curd furnished by
that institution. A mammoth mold had to be specially made for the big cheese and
several extra men employed, and when the mammoth was finished it was too large
to go through the door of a box-car and it was loaded into a flat-car and a
tent-house erected over it. Three men, whose names I am unable to learn at this
time, accompanied the exhibit to Philadelphia, living in the tent en route, and
after its arrival one man was on watch at all times, as long as it lasted.
Toward the close of the Centennial Exposition the cheese was cut and sold from
the car to the visitors in quantities to suit. In a very short time it was all
disposed of and the men returned home with the cash.
A little idea of the process of making cheese is given
by J. J. Lobdell, of Ashtabula, who served an apprenticeship in the West
Andover factory when a boy. "The largest number of cheeses turned out from the
West Andover factory", said Mr. Lobdell, "was 104, and I want to say the
force worked lively. The average weight was from 47 to 49 pounds, so that day's
output amounted to about 2½ tons. The usual
number was about 90 daily. As fast as they were taken out of the moulds they
were hustled to the dry-house, which had shelves that would hold a week's
accumulation, when necessary. The next operation got us up and at work at 4
o'clock in the morning to begin the work of 'rubbing', each cheese having to be
rubbed on both sides daily till properly dried for market."
W. Frank McClure, of Chicago, who was for
several years an Ashtabula "feature" writer, in one of his stories on the cheese
industry in Ashtabula County, written in the early years of the present century,
gave the following information:
"The average modern cheese factory daily takes care of
the milk from a thousand cows. Such a factory is furnished its entire supply by
perhaps 100 farmers. The output of a dairy of 1,000 cows is about 25,000 pounds
of milk each day. There was a time when the farmers made the curd at home and
took it to the factory for the final process, but all the work is now done at
the factories. The force of men required to gather the milk and bring it to the
factory was larger than that at the factory. The milk, as it reaches the
factory, is weighed and the producer credited therewith, then it is poured into
the vats. The milk received at night stands in the vats till morning, when it
has become slightly sour. The morning's milk is poured into the vat with the
other and this combination has been found to be conducive to the best cheese.
Within the vat is a compartment into which, during the operation of cheese
making, hot water from the boiler, at a temperature of 86 degrees, is poured and
allowed to stand for 45 minutes, scalding the milk. For the purpose of inducing
coagulation three ounces of rennet are put into the milk for each thousand
pounds. Rennet is a liquid obtained from a calf's stomach. A mechanical agitator
is used to stir the milk and assist in the coagulation process. A curd knife,
also mechanical, cuts the curd and liberates the whey. When the curd is
sufficiently sour, the whey is drawn off. To determine when the curd is right,
bits of it are applied to a hot iron. If it adheres quickly it is sour. Taken
from the vats, the curd is placed in presses. The presses are telescopic and
round devices, having an inner diameter equal to that of a finished cheese. The
sides or hoops of the presses are raised to their full height and filled with
curd, cheese-capping being placed within the presses before filling. Screws are
then applied and the operation of pressing begins. When the cheese has been
compressed to the regulation size, it is taken out and earned to the dry-house
for the final curing.
"The by-product of cheese is an important part of the
business, everything being utilized. The whey is converted into sugar of milk,
with another by-produce called casein, which latter is fed to a drove of hogs
that are kept at all factories, because it costs nothing to feed them. An
ordinary factory will fatten 50 hogs for market without extra expense. The
liquid sugar of milk is drawn off into tubs and in the course of time becomes
crystalized, when it is carted to a refinery to be worked over, after which it
is ground into powder and is ready for the market. The ordinary factory will
produce from 200 to 500 pounds of these crystals daily."
Austinburg also gained fame as a cheese-producing town.
During the year ending June 1, 1850, 489,000 pounds were made in that town. In
that output was included one cheese that weighed 1,720 pounds, which was made
from one day's milk of 600 cows. It was displayed at the annual exhibition of
the American Institute, in New York City, where it took first prize and was
bought by the proprietor of a hotel in Philadelphia, where it was served to the
patrons. Another great cheese was made in this county and exhibited at the
Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Ashtabula County cheese was always on
exhibition at the Ohio State Fair, and invariably brought home prizes. During
the mid-century years a great amount of cheese was exported from this county to
It is noted, in perusing a county paper published in
1850, that the first premium for cheese awarded at the Ohio State Fair that year
was on a 130-pounder which was at the time three years old, exhibited by A.
Krum, of Cherry Valley. In the year 1868 Ashtabula County's output of cheese
was 2,007,782 pounds.
The rapidly increasing demand for milk for home
consumption gradually sounded the death knell of the cheese-making industry in
this section. The rapid growth of surrounding cities created a great problem as
to how to furnish the needed supply of milk and the only answer was to go out
into the country. Organizations were formed in cities which sent men out into
all rural sections for more than a hundred miles to contract with farmers for
their dairy product, offering, them much better pay than they could get from the
cheese factories. There could be but one result. Special trains were run on the
railroads into the great centers of population, twice a day, to bring in the
milk from a great radius. From cheese making the tide turned to the raw milk and
cream, and large creameries displaced the factories. The reverting of the milk
to the large cities resulted in a steady raise in the price and the consumer, of
course, "paid the fiddler". So great has become the traffic in milk that special
tank cars have been constructed for conveying it, and are so built that the
lacteal fluid will stay sweet and marketable for several days after it has left
the cow. The tanks are constructed on the same plan as a thermos bottle and are
used for nothing but the transportation of milk. Dorset, in this county, claims
to have today the largest milk receiving station in the world. The Reich Co., of
Pittsburgh, owns the plant, and the entire output is shipped to Chicago by fast
freight. Milk produced in Ashtabula in the afternoon is served-to patrons on
milk routes in Chicago next day. Dorset is located in a splendid dairy territory
and the modern good roads and automobiles are great factors in expeditious
handling of the milk.
In this connection it is timely to mention that the
dairy industry in Ashtabula County has been revolutionized through the
activities of the Farm Bureau, an organization given more extensive mention
elsewhere. The following figures give the status of the dairying industry in
Ashtabula County at the present time, according to statistics of the Farm
Bureau: Pounds of butter-fat sold, 78,504; pounds of milk sold, 70,239,106;
pounds of butter-fat in milk, on 3½ per cent
basis, 2,107,173; gain on butter-fat in milk at 5 cents a pound, $122,918.40;
gain on butter-fat sold as butter-fat, $3,925.20, making a total gain on milk
and butter-fat of $126,843.60.
Great Industry in Glass Houses.—(By Charles H.
Gallup, President Ashtabula Lettuce Growers' Association.) Ashtabula County
is one of the foremost counties in the United States in the production of
vegetables under glass. It is estimated that there are approximately 50 acres
covered by these steam-heated houses, in addition to which there are numerous
extensive mushroom pits.
The modern industry dates back nearly forty years to a
time when Frank Luce greatly enlarged his plant in Ashtabula. Employed by
Mr. Luce was C. W. Hopkins, who had previously been in partnership
with E. A. Adams, operating the "Griswold Gardens" in that city.
In 1892 Mr. Hopkins and E. A. Dunbar, then a fruit grower, built a
modern plant in Saybrook, just west of Ashtabula, which many consider the start
of the real boom in the business.
About the year 1897 R. W. Griswold, Jr., entered
into a partnership with his aunt, Fanny Boalt, and started a business
that has resulted in two plants, the present enormous business establishments of
Mr. Griswold and the very large corporation known as the Griswold
Greenhouse Company. These plants are grouped at the west end of Ashtabula and
extend over the line into Saybrook. The Griswold Greenhouse Company came
into existence in 1906 when J. H. Rice took over Mr. Griswold's
interests in the partnership and the latter embarked in the business as an
individual. In his work Mr. Griswold has been so phenomenally
successful that he is considered by many the most successful grower of
vegetables under glass in the United States. He developed a system of
steam-cooking the soil, and a type of greenhouse, both of which are extensively
used throughout the country.
In 1906 the Griswold Greenhouse Company came
into existence when J. H. Rice took over Mr. Griswold's
interest in the partnership, and assumed management of the business. Several
years later Mr. Rice established the J. H. Rice Company,
which is now a floral concern known as the Sunnyside Nurseries, also located in
In my opinion the "big man" of the industry in
Ashtabula County is E. A. Dunbar, who learned the business from his
partner and in 1906 organized the Ashtabula Lettuce Growers Association, which
is still in a flourishing condition and considered the oldest and most
successful organization in the country for the co-operative packing and sale of
high-grade vegetables. Mr. Dunbar has been secretary and sales
manager of the company ever since it was organized. The association now has a
large and modern packing house on the Electric Package line just west of
Ashtabula, where tomatoes, cucumbers and mushrooms are carefully graded and
packed under the most sanitary conditions and the quality is uniform and
guaranteed, so that Ashtabula products bring the highest market prices in all
the large cities from Chicago to Boston, which can readily be supplied by these
products in car lots.
While the main product used to be lettuce, all the
successful growers have almost entirely abandoned lettuce and are growing fall
tomatoes instead. Lettuce, which used to be the standby, is now subordinate to
cucumbers, tomatoes and mushrooms. Rhubarb and asparagus are also grown in some
Besides his work in the association Mr.
Dunbar is one of the leading figures in the Vegetable Growers' Association
of America, which he was instrumental in forming, in Cleveland, in 1908, and
which held a monster convention in Ashtabula the next year and has met yearly
ever since. Mr. Dunbar was the first president and has been
reelected to that office several times since.
About the time that Luce, Dunbar &
Hopkins and R. W. Griswold were building modern plants, E. A.
Adams & Sons started their plant on Benefit street, which has grown to be
one of the large and successful establishments of the city.
In 1906 Charles H. Gallup resigned a fine
position with the Cincinnati Post and came to his former home in Ashtabula to
join his brother, E. P. Gallup, in what is today the large and successful
business of the Gallup Brothers that has plants on Woodman avenue, Ashtabula,
and Sanborn road, Saybrook.
I consider John Reublin, who has a fine
plant on McNutt avenue, Saybrook, the most remarkably developed greenhouse man
in the entire community. He has a record of "pricking out" 22,000 little lettuce
plants, two inches apart each way, in a day. He can set more lettuce, pack more
cucumbers and do more of any class of greenhouse work in a day than any man I
ever heard of. While some of us use a gang of five men to steam-cook our soil,
he has devised a method whereby he can do the whole operation by his own labor.
Mr. Reublin was a leading plant-man for Dunbar & Hopkins
before he went into business for himself.
Walter Tickner, about fifteen years ago,
established the plant now owned by Mr. Reublin. He now owns a much
larger one on the North Bend road in Saybrook. His brother, Archie, for many
years foreman for Gallup Brothers, formed a partnership with P. C.
Remick and they now have a large modern plant near Samuel street, Ashtabula.
Harry Tickner conducts a plant in Saybrook and his brother one on
Nathan street, Ashtabula.
Some 40 years ago Charles Bliss conducted
a combined floral and vegetable greenhouse on what is now Grove avenue, in
Frank Luce, who is known as the "daddy"
of the greenhouse business in Ashtabula, has six sons, three of whom are in the
business. Sherman is in partnership with his father; Robert has a
plant on Woodman avenue and has gained fame as a mushroom grower; Clarence had a
plant on West street, which formerly raised vegetables (now devoted to flowers).
Something like 20 years ago F. C. Bail had a
large vegetable greenhouse plant on Bunker Hill, in Ashtabula. It passed to
other hands and is now devoted to the culture of flowers, and Mr. Bail
has another plant at his home.
John Regner left Gallup
Brothers and built a plant on the South Ridge in Saybrook which is now owned
by Westcott & Blake, formerly with the Dunbar-Hopkins Company.
While the Messrs. Dunbar and Hopkins
are still active in the business, many of the details are taken care of by their
sons, Robert Dunbar and Alden Hopkins, both joint
stockholders with their father.
The Ashtabula Lettuce and Vegetable Company has a large
plant south of Ashtabula, which is managed by Mr. Frank Davenny.
Fred Chapman & Sons have a large
greenhouse plant in Geneva, and truck most of their output to the Cleveland
market. There is a plant near the fair grounds in Jefferson, which changes
management frequently. Hall Brothers have a small but successful establishment
at Saybrook Center. Harry Phelps is conducting a large plant on Prospect street
in Ashtabula. Charles E. Belden & Son own one on Nathan street. Henry
Swedenborg recently erected a greenhouse on Carpenter road, Saybrook, and
Ray Brothers one in East Ashtabula.
No other city in the country disputes the supremacy of
Ashtabula in this line, excepting, possibly, Toledo, in which city there is one
glass roof covering ten acres.
Horses and Horsemen.—(By John L. Hervey.)
The pioneers who settled the Western Reserve were, many of them, accustomed to
good horses and, in particular, imbued with the New England love for fast
trotters, and as the county developed and settled up and smooth, level roads
were constructed it became widely noted for its splendid driving horses, and, in
due time, its trotting race horses. Harness racing became the chief form
of^entertainment almost from the beginning of the county fairs at Jefferson,
about three-quarters of a century ago, and still remains so. The first race
track built on the fair grounds was but a third of a mile in size, and a few
years ago traces of it were still discernable. The present half-mile track dates
back about 60 years, but has been reconstructed and improved several times. Many
horses of national fame have appeared over it. The large and substantial
grandstand was erected about 1890 and was later enlarged and improved. In the
early days of the fairs there were no accommodations for seating the spectators;
then there were temporary bleachers erected each season and the demand for
something better ultimately led to construction of something better.
The foundation stock of the fine and fast horses of
Ashtabula County were the animals of Morgan and Messenger
families, brought in from New England and New York, and of the St. Lawrence
(Canadian) strain, while a good deal of thoroughbred (running) blood was also
introduced. The first large stock farm for the breeding of trotters in the
county was "Maplewood", near Jefferson, established by the late Maj. H.
P. Wade, in 1874. Shortly afterward the late R. W. Davis
established the Pymatuning Valley Stock Farm at West Williamsfield. Major Wade
went to Orange County, New York, and purchased there the stallion New York 524,
by Hambletonian 10, and other animals for breeding purposes; while Mr.
Davis went to Kentucky and bought the stallion Atlantic, by Almont 33. The
rivalry in the middle '80s between Major Wade's stallion Reveille
2:21¾, by New York, and Mr. Davis'
horse Atlantic was the most stirring chapter in the horse history of the county.
Both were grand horses and the county was about equally divided between their
admirers. Both also proved very successful sires, but Atlantic, which trotted to
a record of 2:21, was sold while still a young horse by Mr. Davis
and soon afterward was exported to Italy, where he made a great reputation.
Beside Reveille and New York Major also bred and owned
the stallion Gold Leaf 2:161/£, a splendid race horse and successful sire, as
well as many other fast trotters that raced on the Grand Circuit and elsewhere.
After selling Atlantic Mr. Davis bought
Sprague Pilot 2:24, St. Lookout 2:26, and other good horses, with which he had
Third in prominence among the horsemen of the county
was the late George W. Smith, of Jefferson, the most gifted
trainer of colts ever resident in this county and the breeder and owner of
Oakleaf 2:28, Oakbourne 2:271/2, Clover Leaf 2:211¼,
and many other good ones.
The Eagleville Stock Farm of J. R. Stone at
Eagleville was for a number of years an important establishment. Mr.
Stone bred Franklin 2:10¼, by Gold Leaf,
dam Stella A., by New York, a superb race horse that, with Maud
C. 2:10¼, by Binderton, dam Nita, by
Atlantic, bred by L. M. Cornwell, of Jefferson, were the two fastest
trotters ever bred in the county.
Another breeding farm that for a long while attracted
the attention of horsemen was the Harrington Stock Farm at Rock Creek, where
Binderton and the pacing stallion Conway 2:18¾
were owned. At Rock Creek and also at Orwell there were half-mile tracks where
many races were held in former years, but never on a pretentious scale.
There was also much interest in horseflesh in and about Andover, and the track
built there was one of the first ever laid out in the county. Here racing was
held as early as in the Civil War period of the '60s. At West Andover were bred
the two most noted pacers ever produced in the county, the own brother and
sister Hal B. 2:04½ and Fanny Dillard 2:03¾,
by Hal Dillard 2:04¾, whose breeder was the
late Martin McNulty. Both these horses attained national
reputation and Hal B., after retiring from the turf, became one of
America's foremost sires of pacers. He is still living at West Williamsfield,
and owned by C. A. Barber, aged about thirty years. The off-spring of Hal
B. have won over $250,000 in stakes and purses on American race tracks in all
parts of the country.
A very noted trotting stallion once owned in Ashtabula
County was Allie Wilkes 2:15, by Red Wilkes, bred in Kentucky and brought to
this county by Byron E. Brown, of New Lyme. Many of the offspring of
Allie Wilkes were bred and developed in the county and became successful race
horses, or notable fancy show horses.
Among other horsemen and horses of the county worthy of
mention were, or are E. S. Phelps, of Austinburg, breeder and
owner of numerous good trotters, including Octavia 2:11½,
by Gold Leaf; F. H. Woodbury, of Jefferson, who bred the pacing mare
Sufreet 2:06¼, and others with fast records;
W. M. Kelsey, of Dodgeville, who bred the pacing stallion Baron A. 2:04½,
The most widely successful trainer and driver of
trotters and pacers native of the county is Volney F. French, who was
born in West Andover and has been identified with many noted stock farms and
racing stables and driven many horses to fast records. The late George
Smith, above mentioned, was the most successful developer of fast colts that
the county ever boasted. At present George Hunter, born in
Jefferson, is considered one of Ohio's most promising young reinsmen.
At present racing occurs only at Jefferson at the
annual county fairs, and in 1924 the record for that track was set at 2:09^ by
Hazel Kuestner. An excellent half-mile track was built at
Ashtabula in 1890, beneath the brow of Bunker Hill, and there, for a number of
years, high-class meetings were held, but the growth of the city caused it to be
dismantled and the plot cut up into building lots over a decade ago.
In closing this brief sketch it may be noted that it
was in Ashtabula in 1880 that there died a horse that was among the most
influential in building up the reputation of the county as a producer of fine
and fast drivers and race horses in "early days", namely, Blazing Star. He was
foaled in 1853 and raised just over the county line, at Gustavus.
(By the Editor.) Among the lesser lights that were well known in the county in
their day, may be briefly mentioned Major, owned by Marsena V. Miller, of
New Lyme, in 1858; Comet, a Green Mountain Morgan owned by E. D. Hyde, of
Harpersfield, and William Simons, Esq., of Dorset; Roanoke, owned by
Lewis Austin of Austinburg; William Webber, of Rock Creek, owned
Young Blackhawk; Samuel Bishop, of New Lyme, had Farmer's
Delight, of English descent; Charles Stanhope, of Williamsfield,
owned Dan, the Coney Island horse of the 2:40 class, by Perew's Hamiltonians;
C. S. Case, of Kinsman, boasted Kinsman Boy, by Dave Hill,
2:20 class; he also owned the inbred Hamiltonian stallion Valliant, 2:40;
Ashtabula, owned by M. H. Haskell, of Ashtabula, was another high
stepper, and the last four horses named were out in the circuit races in the
Little Jake, owned by Kelsey & Field, was in the
2:30 class, but had shown her heels in a 2:231/2 clip. Nelson
Humphrey's Prince Albert was quite a figure as either pacer or trotter, and
Albert Field's Loafer was not what his name implied when he got on
the track. In '77 Dr. P. E. Hall, of Ashtabula, had a brown filly, Lady
Grace, that was conceded to be one of the handsomest yearlings in this section;
also a black gelding, Douglass, that was some stepper. In later years there were
others, prominent among which was Dr. D. E. Kelley's stallion Russell B.
2:14½, which made 2:08¾
mark in his day. Allie Wilkes, mentioned in Mr. Hervey's sketch, was
bought by Stanhope Brothers in 1887 for $2,000 and sold by them in
1890 to W. C. McCamy, Lexington, Ky., for $20,000.
Ashtabula County Telegraph Company.—Turning back
into the opening of the decade of the '80s, we find a home-grown and home-owned
system of communication which developed into a rather expansive organization
that was eventually known as the Ashtabula County Telegraph Company. Its
inception was in a short, improvised circuit constructed between the home of one
of the Seymour families in Plymouth and A. C. Stevens'
residence in Sheffield, a distance of several miles. Members of both families
took up the study of telegraphy, bought the necessary instruments and equipment
and many pleasant hours were spent in visiting over the wire by the dot-and-dash
language. Then a similar line was built between the two Kingsvilles, which was
eventually extended to Kelloggsville and Sheffield, connecting with the Plymouth
line, that was extended to Ashtabula and thence south to Jefferson and Rock
Creek. Numerous residences along the line were "connected up" and the project
developed into a veritable mill for turning out telegraph operators. The fever
spread to Conneaut, to which an extension was made, and the Ashtabula County
Telegraph Company was incorporated and organized with S. J. Smith of
Conneaut president; C. W. Hall, treasurer; J. R. Cushing,
secretary, and W. A. Brewer, superintendent and general manager. There
had been a previous unofficial organization of which A. C. Stevens, of
Sheffield, was president. The Western Union Telegraph Company at that time
was the only commercial line in this section and it only hit the towns through
which railroads ran. The Ashtabula County Telegraph Company therefore stood in a
good position to work in conjunction with the regular company and an arrangement
was made whereby it became a recognized auxiliary. A schedule of rates was made
and the Western Union tariff book published these rates in connection with their
own and made the additional charges. Telegrams for the interior points touched
by the local company were relayed at Ashtabula and the A. C. T. Companys
receipts amounted to enough to cover the upkeep of the line until the telephone
came into general use, when the local telegraph company went the way that the
interurban trolley lines are now going, under pursuit of the auto busses.
Reclamation of Marsh.—The reclamation and
conversion of the "Big Swamp" was one of the great achievements of Ashtabula
County history. This section of over 600 acres of waste land existed as such far
back into the years before the advent of the white man and for many years after
his coming it was a thorn in the flesh of progress, as it lay in the direct
course of travel between Ashtabula and the county seat, which was the most
convenient route for all who resided in the northernmost townships of the
county. It was many years before the road, which lay directly across this waste,
could be made stable and at certain times of the year it was impassible.
The account of how this acreage of no-good land was
reclaimed and converted into one of the largest and best farms in the county is
obtained from Russell C. Humphrey, whose father, the late William
Humphrey, was the man who conceived the idea that such a change could be
brought about. Mr. Humphrey said, when approached on the subject:
"My father was one of the early day business men of
Ashtabula and he had a great amount of business that necessitated frequent trips
to Jefferson. The "Big Marsh" was always an eyesore to him and while passing
through it one day when the conditions were particularly bad he resolved that he
would use his influence toward an effort to do away with the nuisance. He
broached the subject to others and to the county commissioners, but nobody
thought it possible to drain it, much less to make anything of it. Father was
not to be beaten, though, so he decided he would try and purchase the old hole,
which belonged to the late E. C. Hubbard, who had moved to Ashtabula from
Conneaut a few years before. Mr. Hubbard did not consider his
marsh land very valuable as he finally traded it to father, 640 acres, for a
horse that cost father $25 and some bottom land along the Ashtabula River. That
was in 1864. The next move was to devise the best means by which to accomplish
the draining of the swamp. A survey of its boundaries disclosed that the only
means of drainage was through a little stream called Coffee Creek, so named from
the color of its water from the swamp, which resembled coffee. This creek flowed
into Grand River.
"The swamp is in Plymouth Township, six miles back from
Lake Erie, and its altitude is 325 feet above the lake level. These facts had
been ascertained in advance, and my father had satisfied himself that the
drainage problem would not be a big one before he started out to acquire the
property. The survey of the situation showed that it would be necessary to dig a
ditch four miles long, as the small creek outlet never carried off very much
water, only such as would be above a certain level, consequently there was
constantly hundreds of acres of sluggish water. These facts were laid before the
county commissioners again, and they agreed to dig half of the ditch which,
toward the outlet, had to go down 12 feet. When it came to actual work it was
discovered that what had been at one time the natural outlet of the swamp water
had been most effectively dammed by beavers. The workmen cut through great
masses of limbs of trees that had lain in the water perhaps for centuries that
were still solid.
"Before being drained there was always a heavy moss
floating over the surface of the swamp and there was a general idea that there
was no solid bottom. Here and there were the knowls indicating homes of the
beavers and the place had acquired from them the name of "Beaver Meadows". There
were lots of huckleberries and snakes, among the latter being frequent rattlers.
"The work of draining proved very successful, and when
the water had been drawn off and the mass of moss that had settled to the bottom
had been cleared or burned away, it was discovered that the bottom contained the
trunks of thousands of large trees that had once constituted a towering forest
so long before that no person living could remember seeing them standing. The
beavers had felled the trees and stripped the branches for use in damming the
water till its surface constituted a good-sized inland lake that made them a
permanent home, till the progressive white man came along and broke it up. The
work of clearing the land was almost equal to that of clearing the original
forest. The efforts for reclamation were begun more than a half-century ago and
the job was not fully accomplished until within the past 20 years. The reward,
however, was great, for the land is exceptionally fertile and produces wonderful
Most of this reclaimed land is still owned by the
Humphreys. R. C. Humphrey and three sons have separate homes on and near the
once considered worthless space.
Natural Gas.—Along in the years
just before and after the beginning of the present century there was great
activity in the line of prospecting for gas. It started with an oil boom that
hit this section of the country and every community for miles around began
drilling for oil. Many thousands of dollars were expended in finding "dry"
holes, but, in the end, the effort brought its reward in developing of a gas
vein that seemed to underlie pretty much all of the northern section of the
There seemed to be gas everywhere and many individuals
put down their own wells and had ample to supply all their individual needs for
a score of years. What was known as the "Jefferson" field appeared to be the
most productive locality, together with adjoining townships. Companies were
organized with view to developing and commercializing the product which Mother
Earth seemed to be so willing to furnish, and while many lost, some speculators
were on the winning side. Simultaneously, great wells came in in Clarion County,
Pa., and in 1901, or early in 1902, The Northeastern Oil & Gas Company was
formed with a view to furnishing gas for this territory, and a supply line was
laid from the Clarion field to Ashtabula, and branched east and west, and
consumers had all the gas needed at an initial cost of 25 cents per thousand.
Gas from numerous county wells was added to the supply from time to time as
needed, but gradually the supply diminished and eventually became exhausted, as
was also the patience of the consumers.
The Ashtabula Gas Company then made an arrangement with
a concern in Fairport for furnishing manufactured gas for Ashtabula city. This
entailed an enormous preliminary expense, as it was necessary to lay a pipeline
from Fairport to Ashtabula, but this was accomplished and the change in fuel
took place in the summer of 1924. The service of the Fairport Gas was also
extended to other county towns that had come to the end of things with Natures
Anti-Slavery Activities.—The Anti-Slavery
Society of Ashtabula County was organized in Ashtabula on May 27, 1834. At the
organization meeting the following officers were elected: Amos Fisk,
president; O. K. Hawley, vice-president; Henry Cowles,
corresponding secretary; A. E. Austin, recording secretary; L.
Bissell, treasurer; Elijah Coleman, William Hubbard,
Jacob Bailey, Eliphalet Austin, Jr., and G. W.
St. John, managers. The preamble of the organization declared all men
created free and equal, and its avowed object was the utter extinction of
slavery by immediate emancipation of the salves. It was not, however, intended
that the slaves would be turned loose to roam as vagabonds and aliens, nor that
they should be invested with political rights and privileges, but that they
shall be employed as laborers and fairly compensated and protected.
The first annual meeting of the society was held in
Austinburg on July 4, 1834, and during the subsequent years the membership
became very large, and this county was well minded to support the policies
advocated by and the cause of John Brown, when he decided to make
it his place of assemblage of his followers, in preparation for the launching of
the attack on Harper's Ferry, which resulted so disastrously for him and his
"On Jan. 10, 1839, Senator B. F. Wade presented
a petition from citizens of Ashtabula County for a repeal of all laws making
distinction between persons on account of color; also two other petitions from
the same county on the subject of slavery in the District of Columbia."
Probably no other commonwealth in the whole North took
an individual part so conspicuous as that of Ashtabula County, and it was to
this county, the home of their champions Benjamin F. Wade and Joshua
R. Giddings, and the last resort of the greatest abolitionists of them all,
John Brown, that the fugitive slaves who were so successful as to
get across the Ohio River, resorted as their asylum and refuge, where they knew
they would be well cared for and helped on their way out of the country.
The attitude of the residents of this county who were
in sympathy with the great cause of freedom brought about the institution of the
great "Underground Railroad", by which the runaway negroes were smuggled through
this section to the shore of Lake Erie, where they were put aboard of vessels
that conveyed them across to Canada, where they could be free and safe from
capture and return to their former owners.
The "Underground Railroad" was a secret method of
conveyance which was made necessary because of the fact that there were many
persons in this section who were not in sympathy with the anti-slavery spirit,
and who, believing that slaves were lawful chattels, would lend their assistance
to the apprehension of the runaways whenever they could do so.
This veiled transportation route extended from
Wheeling, W. Va., to Ashtabula Harbor and all along the way, at convenient
intervals, were established "depots" or "stations" of the "railroad", the same
being homes of sympathetic people who were enlisted on the side of the "Antis"
and had expressed their willingness to aid in the cause of the black man.
Under cover of darkness, to avoid the eyes of
those who were unfriendly to the cause, the fugitives would be smuggled from one
"station" to the next on the route toward the lake. Certain men were designated
to act as "conductors" and there was a code of signs and signals known only to
those of the "inner circle", whereby the presence of a "passenger" was made
known, and thus his transportation was accomplished, usually with success.
These "stations" are landmarks today that are pointed
out to sightseers and strangers. At the northern terminal of the line,
Ashtabula, there were several "stations" in the homes of some of the most
prominent people. This was necessary because of the fact that it was sometimes
necessary for them to remain here several days before passage could be secured
for them to the other side of the lake. In some of these houses are still
existing evidences of the secret apartments set off for the occupancy of the
runaways during their enforced sojourn. Some were in the attic, others in the
cellar—anywhere where they would not be readily detected in case a search was
made by Government authorities. The friends of the cause were pledged to aid the
slaves who came their way, in every possible manner and especially to see that
they were clothed and fed. It seemed to be good policy to carry on the work of
the society secretly, because of the individual unpleasantness that would result
from open action. Many men and families were instrumental in the work who were
not even suspected of their connection by their neighbors who were on the other
side. Open activities would very soon have disclosed the methods pursued and
would have thus made it impossible to accomplish the desired good.
The joy of the slaves, upon finding themselves in
Canada, where they knew they were safe from any chance to be captured and taken
back to bondage, was implied by the following lines of a song that was well
known and well sung in those days:
"I stand as a free man, upon the northern banks of Lake Erie's freshwater sea,
And it fills my very soul to behold the billows roll, and to think of the slaves
I am free. Oh Master, I pray thee, don't come after me, for I can not be your
slave any more. I am free from tyrant laws—free from neath the lion's claws, and
he'll growl if you come near the shore." That the rescued were duly grateful for
all that was done for them was made evident in many ways. Illustrative of this
fact might be considered the following incident related by the late Rev. Charles
Shipman, of Girard, Pa., who was known as the "marrying parson", and who
traveled all over this section when called upon for matrimonial services.
(Incidentally it is mentioned that he officiated at the wedding of the parents
of the author of this work, and also at that of the author, many years
"I was on my way to marry a couple south of Ashtabula,"
said Rev. Shipman, "and was waiting at the Lake Shore depot in
Ashtabula, between trains. Becoming hungry, I stepped into the restaurant,
adjacent to the waiting-room, for a lunch. The proprietor of the restaurant
appeared to take my order, but upon seeing his customer he came forward with
both hands extended, crying 'My God, is it you?' I was surprised at first by the
strange greeting, but he quickly reminded me of the time, years before, when I
had 'conducted' him over a goodly portion of the 'Underground Railroad', in his
escape from bondage."
That colored man was John Leek, whom many
residents of today remember as a good citizen. The Lake Shore Railway Company
constructed the restaurant building that stood just east of the old depot for
many years, and Mr. Leek leased it for the accommodation of the
traveling public. In those days there was a stop of "ten minutes for
refreshments" at intervals along the railroads. Mr. Leek's oldest
son, Charles, was proprietor of Leek's Orchestra, which was in great
demand for many years. He was also in charge of the telegraph office at the Lake
Shore depot, and had the distinction of being the first colored man in the
country who mastered the art of telegraphy.
In the early years there was another organization here
known as the Colonization Society, which was in sympathy with the Anti-Slavery
Society, but not in whole accord with all of its methods. Consequently their
activities were carried on separately, like two church denominations, both
having the same object, but different ways of attaining it.
Illustrative of the intense earnestness of the advocates of freedom for all
mankind was the action at a meeting held in Hartsgrove in 1850, an account of
which is found in the file copy of the Ashtabula Sentinel of Dec. 21 that year.
Resolutions adopted at that meeting are given, and among them were the
"Resolved: That we hold the Fugitive Slave law in utter
contempt, as being no law, and pledge ourselves to despise the conduct of the
makers of it, for their utter destitution of principal, as well as for their
reckless violation of the Constitution of the United States, which they were
sworn to support.
"Resolved: That sooner than submit to such odious laws,
we will see the Union dissolved; sooner than see slavery perpetual, we would see
war; and sooner than be slaves, we will fight.
"Resolved, That Herod made a law in regard to male
children; King Darius made a law in regard to Daniel;
Duke George made a law in reference to Luther; John
Bull made a law in reference to the American colonies; and, meanest of all,
Congress made a law in reference to fugitive slaves; a law to strip us of our
humanity, to divest us of all claim to Christianity and self-respect, and herd
us with blood hounds and men stealers, upon penalty of reducing our children to
starvation and nakedness. Cursed be the Law!
"Resolved: That we will not aid in catching the
fugitive, but will feed and protect him with all the means within our power, and
that we pledge our sympathy and property for the relief of any person in our
midst who may suffer any penalties for an honorable opposition or a failure to
comply with the requirements of this law."
In another part of the same issue of the Sentinel we
read: "The underground railroad through this section of the state is doing a
fair business nowadays. Two fine looking 'chattels' fresh from 'Old Virginia',
passed up the fourth range of this township last week, en route for Canada. We
learn that they met with no difficulty in finding food, shelter and necessary
assistance in their course. The voice of our people is 'Constitution or no
Constitution, law or no law, no fugitive slave can be taken from the soil of
Ashtabula County back to slavery'. If any one doubts that this is the real
sentiment, they can test it."
Fairs.—Time was when all large towns of the
county had their own fair associations of one sort or another and fair grounds
of their own for annual exhibitions. In Jefferson, the Ashtabula County
Agricultural Society held its first fair in 1846 or '47, and is today the only
surviving organization of that nature in the county.
The Ashtabula Township Fair Association was organized
in the late '50s and held annual meetings for a dozen or so years. The fair
grounds were in the southern section of the village that is now entirely built
up with residences. The Ashtabula Farmers 'and Mechanics' Association was
organized in 1857 and was a live organization for a number of years, having
The Andover Union Agricultural Society, organized in or
about 1865, thrived for some years.
The Orwell Agricultural Society furnished an annual
attraction for that and surrounding towns for a number of years from 1857. That
organization also featured a horse fair every year.
The Conneaut Agricultural Society, formed in 1853, held
successful exhibitions annually for about a quarter of a century. One of the old
buildings still stands on the former site of the fair grounds in the western
section of the city.
Ashtabula County Society of Cleveland.—One of
the social organizations that are prominent in the city of Cleveland is the
"Ashtabula County Society of Cleveland", which today has a membership of some
4,000, and which, for its loyalty and constant devotion to the old home county,
is truly entitled to a place in the annals of such environs.
The writer is indebted to Clarence E. Richardson, a
past president and enthusiastic member of that organization, for the following
"The founders of this society and the incentive for
these so-called "home-comings" were Brothers E. J. Pinney, E. E. Northway,
Thomas Covert, Minor G. Norton, J. C. Talcott, George H. Eddy, D. L. Maltby
and A. A. White. They, with their families, constituted a party of former
Ashtabula County residents then making their homes in Cleveland who held a
picnic in Wade Park one day in the summer of 1892.
"The reunion of these old friends, who had kept track of each other since the
old days 'at home', was a most delightful occasion and it was suggested that the
happy day should be repeated and that they invite other former Ashtabula County
residents to join them on the next picnic. The outcome of this enthusiastic
little gathering was the organization, the following year, of the 'Ashtabula
"From the very inception of the idea of organization,
interest was spontaneous with all to whom it was mentioned, and it was very soon
agreed that it was not enough to have a picnic once a year. So it was decided
that they would try an old fashioned 'warm sugar party' (maple of course) and a
committee was appointed to make arrangements for same. This initial event was a
success beyond expectation and from that time till the present, the yearly
program of the organization has included a summer picnic and a winter
"The facilities at Euclid Beach Park won for that
resort the place of holding the picnic parties. For several years the winter
socials were held in the auditorium of the Spencerian College, and later in the
Woodward Masonic Temple. Last winter the big event was held in the Winton Hotel
"From the time of its organization, the society
maintained a steady growth in membership and at each successive semi-annual
gathering there was an increased attendance. These occasions were looked forward
to with great interest by outsiders, as well as members, as it has been a custom
for years to many Ashtabula County people to go to Cleveland to attend them.
Here old friends meet who do not see each other from one picnic, or social, to
another. The gatherings assume all the features and pleasures of a real family
reunion and each meeting is in the hands of a live committee, who enliven the
occasion with interesting programs. There is always a 'speaker of the day' and
usually he is one of the members. It is not necessary to go outside of their own
circle for orators, as the membership contains the names of numerous men and
women who are gifted in that direction."
Industrial Survey.—Steel works and rolling mills
led in industrial activity in Ashtabula County during 1923, it was shown in
reports filed by 216 industries there with the labor statistical bureau of the
industrial relations department. The manufacture of agricultural implements
ranked second, the making of automobiles and parts third, leather tanning and
finishing fourth and ship and boat building fifth. Foundry and machine work was
last in the group of six leading industries.
An aggregate payroll of $3,127,393 was reported to the
bureau, Chief Otto W. Brach stated in the compiled report to Herman R. Witter,
industrial relations director. This sum was paid in the six industries alone and
represented approximately half the wage distribution in all the 216 plants and
establishments. The entire wage earnings in 1923 in Ashtabula County was
$6,704,095, of which $521,251 went to managers and superintendents; $563,892 to
bookkeepers, stenographers and office clerks.
There were 6,068 male and 582 female wage earners on
all the industries reported and of the former the largest number received
between $20 and $25 a week, of which there were 1,254. Those whose pay was less
than $15 in the male class numbered 174 and those who drew amounts in excess of
$50 a week numbered 484. Salaries from $25 to $30 weekly were paid to 1,197
employes, and 1,030 received $30 to $35 weekly.
Among the women employes of the 216 industries 164
received less than $12 a week and eight more than $30 weekly, the largest wage
recorded in the female scale. There were 218 who received from $12 to $15
weekly, 121 to $20, 57 between $20 and $25 and 13 between $25 and $30.
The peak of employment was reached in July when 6,488
persons were reported as employed and February was thev lowest with 5,105
Construction trades found employment for 1,055 persons
and in wages paid them there was $630,204 spent. An important industry in
Ashtabula County is that of transportation by water, including stevedoring, and
six firms reported $1,405,796 paid in wages to 1,100 persons.
Personal Valuation.—The automobile has not
driven "Old Dobbin" out of Ashtabula County. It has, however, greatly reduced
his kind, and according to the number returned for taxation, there are 8,858
such animals in the county, outside of the cities and villages. The value of
them is placed at $511,991.
Other personal property owned in the townships of the
county is as follows for 1924:
There are 30,482 head of cattle, valued at $1,245,175.
Sheep number 4,072, and are valued at $36,133.
The value of hogs is $36,406. There are 3,912 of them.
Poultry figures are: Number of fowls, 198,049; value, $156,886.
There are 169 mules, valued at $11,930.
Motor and other vehicles are valued at $938,185.
Household goods, $746,965.
Farm tools and machinery, $536,930.
Farm products, $44,090.
Pianos and musical instruments, $160,795.
Money in possession subject to draft, $942,078.
Other personal property, $69,635.
The complete list returned equals a valuation of $1,133,455. After the deduction
allowed which amounts to $568,700, the balance for taxation is $6,654,740.